Daily Archives: July 31, 2011

All the Way Back to Wales with the Merediths

Five Generations Meredith-Smith Family 1896

Five generations caught in 1896. Clockwise, from left: Telitha (Meredith) English; her nephew, my great-great-great grandfather, John W. Smith; his daughter, my great-great grandmother, Addie May (Smith) Fisher; her son, Clyde V. Fisher, brother of Zula (Fisher) Ley; and my fifth great-grandmother, Martha Jones Meredith.

From Wales, Via Ley-Fisher-Smith-Meredith | Ley Family History

Of all the elements in Genealogy that appeal to me, I’d guess the case-cracking, Eureka! moments are the ones that most drive the hooks in.

Tracking down clues — and assembling the stories — of ancestors long dead and mostly forgotten is akin to working at some unending, infinitely expansive puzzle. Call it a 9,999,999-piece; call it three dimensional, with clues every now and then slipping in and out of the visible dimensions.

There are the branches well-known and still flowering, the ones often most-closely related to your surname, or your parents’ families. You unearth some lost photo, or mine a record for a detail that reveals some unknown characteristic of their personality or turn in their life, and it’s a giddy sensation, man. You could almost reach out and touch them.

Whereas the forgotten seams in the family story, those shadowy tracts perhaps unspoken of in generations, the ones tragedy or the idle smothering of passing and passing time have barred all conversational ways into, the only way in is through that bottom-of-the-page footnote, or that distant child of a distant cousin of an exiled aunt — for example — these are the veins that enliven the whole landscape, those bare patches drifting like islands from the continent, far from those easy-to-assemble corner and border stretches of the puzzle.

And they glimmer in and out of focus. They beg, almost, to be forgotten. But like itches at the backs of your ears they occasionally beckon, and with the most earnest of prodding, give up their secrets.

When you work on your family tree for months, and then years, it’s a landscape with which you grow intimately familiar. You know the stunted branches. The dead-end roots. Then suddenly, the earth shifts and a new passageway reveals itself. Turns out the root runs deep. And you follow it.

Some of the dead ends we discussed in the blog this week are the branches that stretch beyond my great-great grandparents from Wales on the Weible side — Thomas W. Morgan and Janet Louise Rees (or Rhys or Reese). I’ve collected history book entries, marriage and census records, and obits from at least three newspapers. None make more than a passing mention of their emigration from Wales, or breathe a syllable of their parents’ names.

It’s a pity, since this family of favored grandmothers and cousins brings a welcome shot of Welsh into the ancestral blood. German is still the dominant strain, with the Leys, Foutzes (Pfoutses!), Zeiglers, Duerrs and even Palmers claiming origins there, and the Weibles a bit south in Switzerland. We know the Powells, and we guess the Johnsons are from off the continent, up merry old England way, but Wales brings a bit of color — of coast and mountains and singing in many vowels.

We need to find out more.

But while that Welsh clan of the family has failed to yield its secrets just yet, another of the “forgotten” branches has come through. And it’s on the Ley side, by way of my great-grandmother Mary Zula Lucrece (Fisher) Ley’s ancestors.

Blaenau Gwent, Nantyglo, Wales

Views of Blaenau Gwent, in the area of Nantyglo, Wales.

By the Mountains of Nantyglo, Wales

There wasn’t a lot I knew about my Fisher relatives, save for the name of my great-grandmother, who died in childbirth when my grandfather Robert Earl Ley Jr. was not yet 2.

The Fishers were closer to his generation, having raised him while my great-grandfather Ley recovered from the tragedy and remarried. A daughter of one of my great-grandmother’s brothers was even close chums with my eventual Grandma Erma (Johnson) Foutz, during their school days in New Philadelphia. But we learned more about the Fishers from census records and photographs shared from the Ancestry.com and Geni.com networks than any tales told around the literal campfire.

As I worked my way back from Zula’s mom, Addie May (Smith) Fisher, the trail grew suddenly and acutely cold. From Addie’s death certificate, I learned the names of her parents, John Smith and Mary Jane Neel. But how to narrow down all the John Smiths? In America, it’s as common a name as Morgan seems to be in Wales. And as I combed the clues in Mary Neel’s death record, I descended into a confusion of rhyming surnames — Lee Neel for her father, Mary Beal for her mother.

What the what?

But a little more intent digging, coupled with some on-site research, has pried the doors open again. And led down surprising pathways.

John Smith and Mary Neel, as mysterious as they may seem some 100 years after their passing, were buried together in East Avenue Cemetery in New Philadelphia, the bookending dates to their lives in Tuscarawas County helpfully and prominently supplied.

John, I found out from his 1915 death record, had been a county commissioner. Probably of Tuscarawas County. Perhaps even when he passed away that December, at a hospital in Cuyahoga Falls. He was merely visiting Summit County, according to the record, when he was stricken with typhoid fever and died of endocarditis at age 65.

John’s parents were listed as William Smith and Mary Meredith.


Meredith Farm Tusc Ohio

John and Margaret Meredith's farm in Goshen Twp., New Philadelphia, Ohio

Merediths 1830 Immigrants to Ohio

A great source that has been making the rounds on Ancestry.com lately is the Combination Atlas Map of Tuscarawas County, Ohio. Originally printed in 1875, it contains the usual biographical sketches of prominent families and a wealth of photos, government records and other goodies that actually stretch to about 1908, from what I’ve skimmed. Maps, too!

I’ll share more tidbits from it this week.

But on the Merediths, the book features a nice, fat entry. And what’s more — the picture immediately above, showing my great-great-great-great-great grandparents’ spread in Goshen Twp. (a scene not too different from the way the area looks today, and likely just down the road from where my great-great grandparents Fisher settled), and a remarkable five-generations picture that includes three of my direct ancestors.

Here’s the story, as excerpted from the Combination Atlas… .

The mountains of Nantaglow, Wales (actually Nantyglo — Colt), overlooked the homes of Richard and Jane Meredith, and of Roland and Catherine Jones. (These would be two sets of sixth great grandparents! — Colt.)

John Meredith, a son of the first family, born in 1803, and Martha Jones, a daughter of the second family, born October 31, 1810, were married October 31, 1830, and started for America. The voyage occupied three months and seven days. (Thus, my fifth-great grandparents Meredith come to America.)

Richard, their oldest child, was born August 8, 1831, in Licking County (Ohio — Colt). Their second child, Mary Ann, was born November 4, 1833, at the old Iron Furnace near Zoar (Tuscarawas County now — Colt), where the father was emloyed. Mary Ann married George Smith … . They were the parents of John W. Smith … (So, this paragraph mentions my fourth- and third-great grandparents.)

Telitha C., now Mrs. John English, the third child, was born there, September 8, 1835.

Six months later, John moved his family to Goshen (near New Philadelphia — Colt) and was successfully engaged there in farming and in shipping coal by the Ohio Canal to Cleveland until his death June 13, 1858.

Their other children were born: Roland J. on February 2, 1838; Almeda J. on August 19, 1841, now Mrs. William A. English; Elnora on February 2, 1844, married to John A. Wardell …; Martha L. on January 9, 1847, married to William R. Moore… of Albilene, Kansas; John William on August 29, 1849; and Christopher C. on March 29, 1852.

John W. Meredith lived with his mother at Goshen, and in 1871 took charge of the home farm until his purchase of his present farm of one hundred and twenty-four acres in 1883. His mother, to whom all the estate was willed for life, rented the homestead in 1891, and lived with her children till her death which occurred on May 12, 1898, at the home of Mrs. Elnora Wardell.

In the accompanying picture of Five Generations taken in 1896, this most worthy old gentlewoman is shown with her daughter, Telitha, with her grandson, John W. Smith and his daughter and her great granddaughter, May, who married William Fisher (my great-great grandparents — Colt), and with their son, Clyde V (Zula’s brother, my great-great uncle).

The excerpt goes on to tell of John W. Meredith’s life and service to the county.

Now that these major pieces of the puzzle have clicked into place, I’m eager to find out more about John Smith’s job as county commissioner. I had heard of an ancestor of Addie’s or John William Fisher’s (I believe) who was sheriff of New Phila (or Dover?).

But John’s position is important, since, if he was county commissioner (back then, there may have been only one, compared to today’s three?), he would have served at the same time my great-great grandfather Charles Henry Ley was county treasurer. Could this be how John Smith’s granddaughter, Zula, met Charles Ley’s son, Robert?

Either way, the family puzzle gets ever more colorful the more these forgotten pieces find their way home.

Smith John Mary East Ave top

The grave of John W. Smith and Mary Jane Neel, in East Avenue Cemetery, New Philadelphia. Mary Jane's father, Lee Neel, was buried in the adjacent plot.

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